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How to Let Go of Expectations that Are Holding You Back
Man letting go of expectations in sunset

How to Let Go of Expectations that Are Holding You Back

Expectations play a role in virtually every aspect of your life. But the way they lie hidden beneath the surface, you’d never know they were there.

Expectations can be a good thing. The more you expect of yourself, the more you tend to do.

If you expect poor performance, you’re likely to perform poorly. However, if you expect excellence, you’re going to strive to realize excellence even against difficult odds.

However, many other types of expectations hold us back.


The expectation to get home from work by a certain time or for your path to success to have a particular look and feel can cause us great anger and disappointment if they aren’t realized. These kinds of expectations are an attempt to grab hold of the future, to reduce surprise and feel as though we have some semblance of control.

Sometimes, you can’t help but feel frustrated or disappointed (or both). However, ultimately, this can hold us back, so we need to learn how to let go and live in a more fluid and flexible way to not only be happier, but also improve our ability to adapt and move forward.

When you have expectations, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

– Ryan Reynolds

What are harmful expectations?

So, what are the really harmful expectations you need to look out for?

As mentioned above, there are smaller expectations like assuming someone will show up to an appointment or expecting not to encounter any traffic today so you can get to work on time.

However, those aren’t the really harmful expectations. The ones you need to look out for have to do with who you think you should be and what you think you should do.

Expectations about how it’s supposed to happen for you (your path to success is X, when it may be Y, even if it’s the same end goal) commonly hold people back because they unconsciously close themselves off to other pathways to the very same goal, assuming that their one and only plan will allow them to achieve their definition of success.

What these detrimental expectations will look like for you is subjective, but dealing with them always comes back to the same idea: you need to let them go (or, perhaps more accurately, loosen your hold on them) to gain the power of flexibility and clarity in your life.

This has countless benefits, most notably allowing you to realize and express your authentic self without negative feedback interfering.

How to let go of expectations

Awareness is definitely the first and most important step to letting go of harmful expectations that might be holding you back, but it’s only part of the equation.

To complete the process, you need to ask why those expectations arose in the first place and start tearing down the construct that created them.

First, see the flaw in your expectations

See that your expectations are assumptions made to comfort and guide you, but they aren’t at all based on real, accurate data or sensible observations.

If you’re expected to follow one of a few career paths that your parents have deemed “successful,” you may have designed your life in a way that assumes you’ll do one of those things.

Your parents likely will have instilled in you the idea that only by following one of these careers can you guarantee yourself success, happiness, and security. And, so, this expectation is then cultivated within you as it was in your parents (perhaps a little differently, but nonetheless there).

But this view of success has almost always been wildly inaccurate, even before the internet. Opportunity is all around and it often doesn’t come in the form that you expect it to (in fact, almost nothing in life does).

Then, see the damage that’s being done

Now that you’ve begun to break down these expectations, you need to see the detriment of holding onto them; the damage that’s being done.

Notice how these deep-seated expectations affect who you think you’re supposed to be and become and how they can very much steer you astray from your authentic self but happiness in general. The more clearly you can see these harmful side effects, the more you’ll understand the potential damage of such expectations.

If you believe happiness if found in a typical marriage, white picket fence and children but it turns out you can’t have kids, you’re going to suffer until you undo this flawed expectation and see that happiness isn’t necessarily connected to any of those things.

See this for what it is and understand how these expectations hurt us as people and you’ll be motivated to become more open– and wiser for it.

If you can combine the clarity to see these deep-seated expectations for what they are and generate sufficient motivation to take action and act in a wiser and more mindful way, you’ll be on your way to letting go and realizing a greater level of freedom than you've ever had.

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